Vox Populi

How did readers react to the Vedomosti editorial supporting Defense Minister Serdyukov and his reforms?  Basically, two ways — perhaps about 30 percent expressed qualified agreement, and 70 percent believed it was paid PR written, if not by Serdyukov himself, then by one of his minions.

None of this is scientific, of course.  It’s just an attempt to make sense of 84 posted comments on the article.  Vedomosti is a mainstream, semi-liberal paper (certainly neither far left nor far right) with an educated readership.  Take it for granted that those disagreeing with the editorial were more likely to comment.

With that said . . . let’s look at opponents of the piece.

The thrust of their comments, if it’s even possible to summarize them, boils down to this: 

  • The editorial is part of a ‘special operation’ to rehabilitate Serdyukov and reforms after the Seltsy dust-up (was it really that serious or damaging?), and to head off Achalov’s 10,000-man meeting (which Achalov now says will be more like 5,000).
  • The editorial fails to recognize how demoralized the army is by reforms and a reformer like Serdyukov.  One reader even suggested that, after buying arms abroad, Russia might once again hire foreign officers too.
  • The editorial’s opponents say it’s Serdyukov who’s destroyed the army, and one argued you can only reform the army if you were commissioned a lieutenant and fought in a ‘hot spot.’
  • Finally, less polemical types argued Vedomosti didn’t address the state of the Russian Army’s combat capability under Serdyukov.  One said cutting is not reform, and the division-to-brigade transformation was really no more than a recognition of the true state of affairs in most formations.  Another suggested going to Siberia or the Far East and sounding the combat alarm in a motorized rifle brigade to observe directly how combat readiness has collapsed (of course, maybe that’s why this year’s training is to focus on small units).

The comments of those who agree with the editorial actually mesh up kind of nicely (at least for purposes of contrast) with those above:

  • The army was destroyed in the 1990s by its own bloated cadre officer corps that turned into a band of uniformed profiteers (but were they any different from other Russians at that time?).  This generals’ mafia was capable neither of defending the country nor returning conscript sons home safely to their mothers.  One reader said the near-disaster in South Ossetia only confirmed the correctness of Serdyukov’s direction.
  • These readers said the right civilian makes a good Defense Minister.  One compared Serdyukov (once again) to Robert McNamara.
  • Another reader said he supports Serdyukov, but he still can’t tell if Russia’s combat readiness or the effectiveness of its defense expenditures is higher under him or not.
  • A final reader wants to give Serdyukov a chance and more time to see if he can improve the country’s defense capability.  He says he was a conscript in 2000-02 and only fired his weapon three times during that period.

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